Liverpool's Epstein Theatre to close its doors
The Epstein Theatre is set to close its doors at the end of this month following Liverpool City Council's decision not to continue its financial support for the venue.
Epstein Entertainments Ltd, which operates the grade II listed Hanover Street venue on behalf of the council, said today it had explored every avenue to keep the theatre running and was “heartbroken” to make the announcement.
The council, which owns the freehold of the building which it leases it to a commercial property landlord, has been leasing back the theatre space along with subsidising a proportion of the venue’s rent, utilities, service charges and maintenance to the tune of around £100,000 a year.
But due to ongoing pressures on city coffers, the council says it decided in 2021 it was 'unsustainable' to continue its current level of support beyond the end of the current sub-lease period, which is June 30.
Despite direct negotiations with the landlord, Epstein Entertainments Ltd bosses say they have been unable to come to a workable solution without any financial backing, leaving them with no alternative but to close the popular venue which supports around 40 posts both front of house and backstage.
They have confirmed all productions up until June 30 will go ahead as planned, while they will be looking to transfer performances after that date to other Liverpool City Region venues.
Ticket holders for cancelled performances will receive an automatic refund.
Above: Epstein Entertainments Ltd Chantelle Nolan, Bill Elms and Jane Joseph. Photo by David Munn.
Epstein Entertainments Ltd were awarded the contract to operate the theatre on behalf of the council in October 2018, but ongoing discussions over the management agreement - and the Covid pandemic - meant the company did not officially take over the running of the venue until October 2021.
Epstein artistic and operations director Chantelle Nolan said: “I’m truly heartbroken that Epstein Entertainments is having to vacate the beautiful Epstein Theatre. Since opening to the public in December 2021 we’ve worked tirelessly to make the business a success, but unfortunately with the costs we’re now facing, it’s become an impossible task.
“The work required to maintain the theatre to HSE standards and comply with legal requirements has become a severe drain on the company’s finances. Unfortunately, without Liverpool City Council’s support, it’s impossible to make it a financial success."
Artistic and communications director Bill Elms added: “This closure is a huge loss for the Liverpool City Region; we’re inundated with daily requests from programmers and theatre companies wanting to use the venue. Since we took over, we’ve worked tirelessly and turned the venue around, from coming out of a pandemic, to playing to over 80% capacity houses but, it’s sadly just not enough.
“It’s a unique venue, an historic gem, and a venue that fills a huge gap in the current Liverpool theatre landscape as a mid-scale receiving house. We’ve fought and thought of everything we can to keep the theatre open, right up to the very last minute, but without financial support, the costs are simply unworkable for us, or for any other operator, to work with.”
A spokesman for Liverpool City Council said: “It was decided in 2021 that the cost of more than £100,000 a year in financial support for the Epstein Theatre was unsustainable and, after careful consideration, both the landlord and theatre operator were informed the council would be unable to continue this beyond 2023.
“That wasn't an easy decision. The Council is a huge supporter of the city’s cultural sector and continues to annually invest millions of pounds supporting dozens of venues and organisations, but that support needs to deliver value for money for the tax payer.
“The Council paid for the Epstein Theatre’s restoration and has supported it on an annual basis since 2011. It was hoped that given both the operator and landlord had had more than 18 months to negotiate a new lease arrangement, an amicable solution would be found between the two parties.
"It's a huge shame that hasn't materialised.”